House Blessing

Well, we finally bought a house and, after a year of upheaval, are settling into our new location in Virginia. Our pastor offered to do a house blessing for us, so we had that this weekend. We had some people over, and the rite had everyone traipsing through the house, with Bible readings and prayers appropriate for each room: the entryway (hospitality), the living room (positive conversations), the bedroom (rest and peace), the study (wisdom), the family room (the “whatevers” of Philippians 4), the kitchen (daily bread), even the bathroom (reminders of baptism; the cleansing of the Holy Spirit).

It was a wonderfully meaningful service. As someone who attended commented, “it reminds us how Christianity relates to ordinary life.” Exactly! That’s what the doctrine of vocation is all about.

Review the Beowulf Movie

I hope some of you see the Beowulf movie this weekend and post a comment about how it was. 

A critic I really like, Stephen Hunter, has a good take on how the animation/real-life combo prevents any real acting or human emotions from happening. The same people who made this movie made “Polar Express,” which utterly creeped me out. Our faithful reader and commenter tODD usefully explained why, pointing us to this article about the “uncanny.”

Animation does make possible, though, effects of fantasy that are impossible to realistic drama. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien hated attempts to portray fantasy tales on stage, because in their realism they just could not pull it off, and phony special effects made it even worse. They didn’t think much of movies, either, though Lewis made an exception, interestingly enough, for the pioneering fantasy animation of Disney’s “Snow White.”

Mr. Hunter, for all of his good analysis, utterly misunderstands Beowulf’s times and the work’s literary structure. He obviously hadn’t read Tolkien’s definitive critical essay, “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics,” as evident when he says this:

When the original was assembled (written? collected? sung? chanted?) around the embers back in the good ol’ 700s or so, no theory of psychology existed, so there was no storytellers’ need to conjure coherent behavior patterns or fully realized plots. Man was so powerless and all nature seemed arbitrary, so stories could be arbitrary, none more so than the epic poem of the Anglo-Saxon peoples (even if it told of Scandinavian adventures): The great warrior Beowulf fights and kills first Grendel, then Grendel’s ma; 50 years later he fights a dragon.

Unacceptably episodic today. No arc. No growth. Where’s the reveal? What’s the back story? Thus, Gaiman and Avary root the thing in family dysfunction, and the two monsters, plus the fire breather, are the manifestations of alpha-male pathologies for which many innocent people pay in blood, even if the alpha male is the only one on the planet capable of dealing with the terror he himself has unleashed.

Episodic? As Tolkien points out, each encounter shows the Monsters getting stronger and Beowulf getting weaker, intensifying the heroism, in the Germanic sense of courage in the face of doom. We also see the progression of the hero as a young warrior in the prime of life, learning by experience, until at the final confrontation is he is an old warrior near death, still fighting dragons for his people when he is 80 years old, until a new generation rises to take his place. And we could go on. The unity of the tale is far richer than what we postmoderns could come up with in our “theories of psychology.” And those times were in tune with much deeper forces than we are.

My worry is that the filmmakers, though they seem faithful to the original plot, may also be oblivious to what it means. Still, Hunter lauds the fight scenes to the sky. And, in what I didn’t realize, many theaters are showing it in 3-D! Only with cool glasses! So, at the very least, it should be great fun. But I can’t see it this weekend, so I need you to tell me.

What about Obama?

In my continuing series, we turn to the Democrats.  Barack Obama, it seems to me, has conducted himself very well in this campaign, which is free of the vitriol of pretty much every one else.  Alone of all the Democrats, he is not demonizing conservatives.  He is not even demonizing opponents of abortion.  In his book, he writes about how he understands and appreciates their points, though he depicts himself as reluctantly “pro-choice” anyway.  That book also tells about his conversion to Christianity and his faith in Christ, something that he is open about and is quite sincere about.  (Inside sources among Christians on Capitol Hill confirm this.) 

I’m not saying I could vote for him.  He is weak on both abortion and the war on terrorism and is liberal in his overall political philosophy.  Still, if the agenda is “anyone but Hilary,” shouldn’t we root for him in the Democratic primaries?

How to Play Rachmaninoff

Some great composers create music so aesthetically complex that hardly anyone can play them.  For example, hardly any pianist has hands big enough to reach some of Rachmaninoff’s chords. But where there is a will, there is a way. 

HT:  C. R. Biggs

Mormons Mad at Romney

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, has been reaching out to conservative Christians. In doing so, some conservative Mormons think he is compromising his faith. From an article in The New Republic:

specially irksome to some Mormons are Romney’s efforts to minimize the differences between their religion and traditional Christianity–differences that, in some cases, define the very essence of the Mormon faith. In a cover story last month in Newsweek, Romney was asked whether he had ever performed baptisms for the dead, a Mormon ritual in which the deceased of all faiths are posthumously baptized as Mormons in order to permit them to enter heaven. Romney, according to Newsweek, “looked slightly startled and answered, ‘I have in mylife, but I haven’t recently.’” This is not surprising–baptisms for the dead tend to be performed mostly by younger church members–but Romney’s response made it seem as though he was embarrassed by an important church practice, one in which many Mormons have personally participated. “Baptism for the dead isreally a fundamental Mormon doctrine, and for Romney to downplay it like that did alienate people,” says Boyd Petersen, coordinator of Mormon studies at Utah Valley State College.

Even the religious language Romney has adopted on the campaign trail sounds alien to some Mormons. For instance, he refers to Jesus, as evangelical Protestants often do, as his “personal savior.” The phrase is not directly at odds with LDS theology, but Mormons almost never use it among themselves–both because it implies a born-again experience not central to Mormonism andbecause church doctrine, like Catholicism but unlike evangelical Protestantism, maintains that faith in Christ must be matched with good works in order to attain salvation. “I think most Mormons would be a bit puzzled to hear him use language like that,” says Peck.

Romney has also alienated Mormons when speaking about their history. In a “60 Minutes” interview in May, he told Mike Wallace, “I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.” Polygamy was banned by the church in 1890, and the few splinter groups that still practice it today have been excommunicated. But many Mormons hold a more nuanced view of poly-gamy as practiced by their ancestors in the nineteenth century. “With polygamy, you’re talking about people’s families,” says Scott Gordon, president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, an LDS advocacy group. “Some Mormons, though certainly not all, have been offended by what he’s said. He should probably be more careful recognizing the historical context of the practice.” Historian Audrey Godfrey was more blunt. “If I were one of his relatives,” she said, “I would be upset with him.”

The Myth of the Evangelical Crack-up

One of our Patrick Henry College students scored an internship at Slate, the big and influential online magazine. Recently, he actually wrote the lead, front-page story. I’ll link it to his byline: David Sessions.

First of all, how good does an openly conservative Christian have to be to get an internship with “Slate”? Second, how good of an intern does he have to be to write a lead story? Third, how good does the college have to be to prepare a young Christian to get that kind of internship and to be able to write that kind of story?

Anyway, David argues in his story that all of the mainstream media stories on how Christian conservatives have lost their political clout are wrong. David did a little research (which he learned at PHC) and found that the mainstream media has been saying this for EVERY election, and that it has ALWAYS taken Christian activists a while to get behind any particular candidate.

David also offers insights into the new generation of Christian political activists. They do NOT believe in establishing a theocracy (a notion that many “Slate” readers use to scare themselves at night). They are not even as conservative as many pundits assume (which is not necessarily a good thing).

David cites the influence of Reformed theology among many younger activists as something that minimizes the legalism and theocratic impulse, putting more emphasis on God’s grace rather than setting up a militant kingdom on earth. I would add, though, that the theocrats also grow out of a particular Reformed tradition. But there is indeed another strain of Calvinism that opposes that emphasis. (Some of its critics accuse his adherents of “crypto-Lutheranism”!)

I’m not sure I totally agree with David’s diagnosis that evangelicals are not cracking up. But what do you think?